Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to stand in the House and speak on this motion that has been brought forward by a colleague of mine from the NDP.
The relationship between the government and CBC/Radio-Canada is an arm's-length relationship, and that is for good reason. I would like to spend some time to clarify the nature of that particular relationship.
I will begin with a reminder of the origins of CBC. When the corporation was created back in 1936, Parliament provided for a great level of autonomy from the government to ensure the independence of the corporation's broadcasting and programming decisions and its freedom from any political interference.
Since then and over the years, the Broadcasting Act, the legislation governing the corporation, has been amended a number of times to adapt to the changing broadcasting landscape. These various amendments were made in full respect of the necessity for an arm's-length relationship between CBC and the government of the day. It is a relationship that is defined fundamentally by freedom of expression, a cornerstone of Canadian democracy.
The CBC's independence is explicitly underscored in three sections of the Broadcasting Act:
The Corporation shall, in the pursuit of its objects and in the exercise of its powers, enjoy freedom of expression and journalistic, creative and programming independence.
The corporation reports to Parliament through the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. It is governed by a board of directors consisting of 12 directors, including the chairperson and the president, who is appointed by the Governor in Council.
The board provides overall stewardship of the corporation. It is responsible for the fulfillment of the mandate and directing the business, activities, and affairs of the corporation. It holds its senior management accountable for its. It is also responsible for providing strategic guidance to the CBC. The public broadcaster's current five-year strategic plan is an example of the how the board interprets its public mandate and provides guidance to the CBC in developing media strategies, programming and other initiatives.
It is important to take a few moments to speak about how the board's strategic guidance impacts the CBC.
CBC's mandate states that:
...the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as the national public broadcaster, should provide radio and television services incorporating a wide range of programming that informs, enlightens and entertains;
...the programming provided by the Corporation should:
i. be predominantly and distinctively Canadian,
ii. reflect Canada and its regions to national and regional audiences, while serving the special needs of those regions,
iii. actively contribute to the flow and exchange of cultural expression,
iv. be in English and in French, reflecting the different needs and circumstances of each official language community, including the particular needs and circumstances of English and French linguistic minorities,
v. strive to be of equivalent quality in English and French,
vi. contribute to shared national consciousness and identity,
vii. be made available throughout Canada by the most appropriate and efficient means and as resources become available for the purpose, and
viii. reflect the multicultural and multiracial nature of Canada.
In order to provide Canadians with a wide range of Canadian cultural programs, the public broadcaster must provide content on multiple media platforms. Canadians expect to have access to media content at the time and place of their choosing, be it on a mobile device or on their television set to video on demand. They also want to contribute content, to participate, and to be able to express their own opinions back to the corporation.
The CBC must strive to meet those needs by focusing on creating and delivering original and innovative high-quality Canadian content, by reflecting and bringing together Canadians in its regional and national programming, and by engaging with Canadian audiences through special events such as town halls. Most importantly, the CBC must strive to be cost-effective, transparent, and accountable.
The CBC must offer high-quality national programs that inform, enlighten, and entertain Canadians, just as its mandate requires it to do. The CBC carves out space, forums, or opportunities for Canadians to connect with one another and share stories, experiences, and opinions.
It must maintain and, where applicable, increase its presence in regions and must continue to do so in an innovation fashion, using all or some of the various services, depending on the specific circumstances. It must also seek to reach communities that do not have access to many channels or cultural services. It also offers news programming produced in the regions.
The CBC has recently expanded its reach to certain communities in our country, including Kelowna, Edmonton, Hamilton, and northern and southern suburbs of Montreal, as well as Newfoundland.
The CBC is also investing in the digital programming of its corporation. The CBC is already recognized as a leader in digital offering with its new websites and innovative applications, such as the CBC music web portal and others. The corporation now offers a broad suite of digital programming that can be accessed by Canadians when and how they want it. Digital programming can also mean an increased presence in the regions.
The corporation must continue to strive to be a presence in these regions in digital media and offering Canadian content at prime time, during the day. It must also continue to seek to diversify and to increase revenues.
The CBC should continue to form partnerships and pursue avenues to maximize its own resources. The corporation is responsible for establishing performance indicators to monitor how well, according to Canadians, its programming and services fill the main elements of its mandate.
Our government strongly supports the emphasis the corporation is placing on measuring its performance, as it is imperative that all corporations demonstrate the results they achieve using Canadian tax dollars.
In terms of meeting its mandate, according to a recent survey commissioned by the corporation, CBC's English and French language radio and television services scored an average of 8 out of 10 for being informative, enlightening, entertaining, and available on new platforms.
When asked how English and French services fare against the corporation's strategic priorities, it received an average, again, of about 8 out of 10 for being high-quality, distinctive, diverse, and reflective of Canada's regions.
Like all broadcasters, the corporation continues to measure audience share, revenues, subscribers, production costs, and adoption to new platforms. Noteworthy results include the performance of French television, its network radio services, and its process on digital platforms.
On the other hand, the CBC must find ways of attracting Canadians aged 25 to 54, which is a key demographic sought by television advertisers. It is in decline in viewership, and the decline of advertising revenue is causing a number of challenges for the corporation.
To conclude this example of governance, it is critical to underscore that the corporation is responsible for the day-to-day operations, including its strategic objectives. It is up to CBC to ensure its strategic plans are fulfilled and that they meet the needs of Canadians.
The president, as chief executive officer at the head of the senior executive team, is responsible for the overall management of the corporation. He is accountable to the board of directors for the efficient operation of the corporation in accordance with the plans and priorities established by the board.
The board of directors has a proper mix of skill and experience to manage the CBC and ensure it fulfills its mandate. Considering the legislative framework and regulations surrounding the broadcasting sector, it is also important that the board fulfill its roles and responsibilities. The board has the knowledge, skills, and experience required to do a proper job, including in the areas of media, legal, accounting, community, and business sectors.
I would like to get back now to the nature of the arm's-length relationship with government that the corporation has, and the terms of accountability that Parliament has in ensuring the accountability for the Canadian public.
As we know, the Financial Administration Act governs the administration of public funds, and part X of the act provides a broad accountability framework through which most crown corporations normally engage with the government. However, CBC is exempt from certain sections of part X of the Financial Administration Act. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation shares this exemption with a very few select crown corporations, and this exemption is put into place to ensure that some cultural activities and decisions are completely free of any political involvement. While this exemption from the portion of the Financial Administration Act gives the corporation a high level of autonomy from government, it still has to comply with key reporting requirements that apply to all federal crown corporations as well as under its own legislation, the Broadcasting Act, or under other legislation such as the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, and labour laws, among others.
Every year, the corporation informs government what it intends to do by submitting to the responsible minister, for information only, a corporate plan and a five-year outlook. A summary of the plan and the annual operating and capital budgets are tabled each year before Parliament.
Like every other broadcaster in Canada, the CBC has to comply with regulations set out by the CRTC. In addition, the CRTC established specific licensing conditions for the CBC and Radio-Canada television and radio services to encourage the national public broadcaster to deliver on key elements of its mandate and contribute to a strong Canadian broadcasting system.
To give even more strength to the crown corporation's accountability to Canadians, our government, in 2007, expanded the scope of the Access to Information Act so that more federal organizations, including the CBC, are required to respond to information requests. It also brought the corporation under a proactive disclosure requirement, which means that the travel and hospitality expenses of its executives and the members of its board of directors must be published online on a quarterly basis. We expect that the CBC will fully comply, and that it does fully comply, with the requirements under both of these acts.
We went even further to encourage an exchange between Canadians and the board of any crown corporation. To encourage the CBC to engage directly with Canadians, we provided Canadians with an opportunity to speak directly to the boards, including the board of CBC. In 2009, our government added the requirement in the Financial Administration Act that crown corporations hold annual public meetings. The purpose of the annual public meeting is to give the public an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns that they might have over the programming directions, the fiscal management, or the overall stewardship of CBC. As principal stewards of the corporation, the board must hold meetings attended by the chair and the president and chief executive officer, as well as the chief financial officer. They are expected to speak about the plans and the spending of the corporation over the previous year, and about its future direction.
There are also mechanisms for Canadians to pursue complaints about CBC or Radio-Canada news or public affairs coverage. They may contact the corporation directly through any of its stations or here at the head office in Ottawa. Where the complainant feels that the concern has not been resolved by the corporation, the complainant has the recourse of an ombudsman. There are two independent ombudsmen, one for the CBC's English side and one for the Radio-Canada French service. The ombudsmen act as an appeal authority for the complainants who are dissatisfied with the responses from the corporation's program staff or management. The ombudsmen review complaints regarding journalistic and current affairs material. The ombudsmen determine whether the journalistic process or the radio, television, or Internet content involved in the complaint does in fact violate the corporation's journalistic policies, and may subsequently recommend corrective action such as an on-air apology or some other type of follow-up.
The ombudsmen are independent of the corporation's program staff and management. After investigating complaints, the ombudsmen report their findings directly to the president and CEO of the CBC and, through him, to the board of directors. Hence, Canadians can expect that when the corporation's journalistic and public affairs policies are not respected, they have a recourse and an unbiased resolution method.
Our Conservative government believes it is important for Canadians to have direct avenues to hold CBC to account. The CBC receives a significant amount of funding from taxpayers. The more than $1.1 billion that the CBC receives in direct and indirect funding is sufficient to fulfill its public mandate to reach Canadians as prescribed under the Broadcasting Act.
As the House knows, Canadian audiences now have a number of high-tech electronic devices and hundreds of television and radio services that allow them greater freedom to choose and access the content they want. The CBC must continue to invest in the programs and platforms in which Canadians want to invest their time watching. It has the independence to decide how best to invest the funds received from Parliament in programming to achieve its mandate.
The corporation has always operated and will continue to operate at arm's length from any government. The corporation's reporting obligations are necessary to ensure that CBC remains accountable to all Canadians and delivers high-quality programming that Canadians want to enjoy.